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Book Review: Bearback by Pat Garrod

This month Bearback came to our attention to review. This is the truly remarkable and intriguing story of Dr Pat Garrod and Dr Vanessa Lewis, who packed up their lives as doctors in the UK and circumnavigated the globe in an epic 100,000 miles on the back of their motorcycle: the Bear.

The Review

Bearback - The World Overland Bearback by Dr. Pat Garrod

Before you even read the contents page of this book you are given the poem "Ithaka" by Constantine P. Cavafy. The poem's theme is the enjoyment of the journey of life, and the increasing maturity of the soul as that journey continues, and that these things are all that the traveller can ask for. This sets a precedent for what to expect from the book and holds true throughout; Pat and Vanessa undertook a journey to enhance and enrich their lives.

There are countless tales worthy of review in this book; one of my favourites has to be the crossing of the Chari River from Chad to Cameroon. Fearing bandits (just the day before bandits had ambushed a truck transporting cotton), the local army were organising a convoy and no vehicle was to leave without it. After setting out, the army stopped and charged Pat and Vanessa for their services telling them that "money is less important than your life, and that of your wife". Pat paid the army, agreeing with their logic and promptly got back on his bike and raced along the road at over 70 mph, through low-lying marsh area with grass taller than themselves, into a small village where they finally relaxed and left the "safety" of the armed convoy.

BearbackMotorbike riding

Many more stories like that are peppered throughout the book. As Pat says, they were becoming increasingly comfortable with these potential perils, and indeed through reading them you also begin to 'disregard' them to an extent. It's only when you step back and think about what you've just read that you realise the seriousness of it all and how amazing their experiences really were.

Essential Travel Mgazine caught up with Pat to discuss the book and find out more.

The Interview

Essential Travel: Did you plan to write the book from the first moment you decided to take on the trip?

Pat: No, it was more of a vague possibility and the fact that I had decided when I was seven that I would like to write a book, any book, at some point in my life. But the idea of this book seemed to evolve really the further we rode. I felt so animated by what we experienced and saw, and so touched by the depth of spirit and kindness in nearly all the people we met that it became unthinkable to feel so much, and have so much positivity for the world we live in, not to want to share it somehow with as many people back home as possible. I feel very privileged to have seen the world as we did, overland, mile by mile, with the gift of time.

Essential Travel: From reading the book and imagining it myself, you both must have felt pretty isolated at times - how did you deal with this?

Pat: We were perhaps more isolated than many of us could now imagine, having no mobile phones or internet access, relying on letters, sometimes months old, at Poste Restantes. But we did have each other, and we had a mission, a journey, a goal. That said, sometimes, in the more remote parts of the planet, where we'd be bush-camping and going to bed night after night at 7pm, the simplicity of life on the road could be wearing, but then I'd always have a good book to fall asleep over and the next morning to look forward to, knowing that I didn't have to go to work, that I was living the life of my choice.

Bearback adventuresImage courtesy of Dr. Pat Garrod

Essential Travel: Any particularly frightening moments that still stand out?

Pat: Yes, the ones that will never be mentioned in any book.

Essential Travel: You've received some fantastic reviews and praise for the book so far, not to mention Sir Ranulph Fiennes' thoughts - is there anything you're particularly proud of?

Pat: It's a real battle for small fry like me to get a book out there and in the public eye, especially these days in a society so driven by fame, so to actually see the book in shops, especially in the world renowned Stanford's in London, is particularly pleasing. I think what gives me the greatest pride is the emails I regularly receive from people I've never met who have read the book and genuinely loved it and found it inspiring, some even giving up the rat-race to head off themselves. I'm also proud of the fact that I didn't give up on the book, because it is by far the hardest and most time-consuming project I have ever undertaken, not just the writing of it but the subsequent publishing and marketing too. Don't ever write a book! I am also very proud to have it endorsed by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, a man for whom I have enormous respect.

Essential Travel: If you could recommend to me one place from your trip to experience in my life - where would it be?

Pat: What an intriguing question. I'm tempted to be facetious and say "all of it", because life is just too short to be boxed in by walls, in front of lifeless screens, surrounded by familiar people... but then I said all that in the 'Introduction' to the book. I like this question because by asking it you have forced me to sit and revisit in my head a million places, a million emotions, but actually for me the answer is easy - it has to involve Africa, it has to include wildlife and it has to involve being on foot in the enormity of the African bush, knowing that at any moment you could come face to face with an elephant, a lion, or, heaven forbid, a lone male buffalo - there is one such place, which in the book I refer to as Eden - the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

Essential Travel: In the final chapter you talk of the "shock and fear of being back home" - how was it readjusting to 'normality'?

Pat: Difficult at first and easier as the months go by, but I think the truthful answer is that I haven't and I never will. Ness (Pat's wife, Vanessa) and I have fashioned our lives around being able to run away at regular intervals - to be free.

Essential Travel: Do you have any other trips planned for the future?

Pat: Since the round-the-world journey of which the book is about, we have crossed Africa twice more by motorcycle, and completed a six-month, 35,000 kilometre African safari in a Land Rover we set up in Cape Town. Next year we plan on riding around the world again, but by a completely different route taking in the stans (the arid countries between Europe and East Asia historically coveted for their strategic position) of Central Asia, Mongolia, Russia, Alaska, Canada and the rest of North America.

Essential Travel: If you could do it all again, would you?

Adventures abroad Image courtesy of Dr. Pat Garrod

Pat: Yes, but it would be different, because I am a different age - mindsets change - which is why I think it is so important to grab opportunities here and now, rather than waiting for that elusive retirement.

Essential Travel Rating: 10/10

If you wish to purchase the book please visit Pat's website and purchase it directly.

Last Updated: January 2013

Dan Baker

Dan Baker

Dan graduated University in 2010 and came aboard the Essential Travel team shortly after. He brought with him a wealth of writing experience taken from his time studying and so it was only a natural progression for him to begin to write with us. Outside of work he is a keen sportsmen, traveller and socialite and it is clear throughout his work that these traits continue to influence his writing strongly.